Meet the X-3: the Sci-fi Thruster That Shoots Plasma from Its… Back

There’s one thing that the human race is sure of; the space age is upon us. Surprisingly, the best way of doing it right about now is putting humans on top of a rocket that could explode at any moment and launching them into space. I know, it sounds reckless. And surprisingly, it works. But here’s the problem: chemical rockets can get humans into earth’s orbit and out, but if we are going to explore the stars, chemical rockets just won’t do it. These rockets are powered by liquid hydrogen (LH2) having liquid oxygen (LOX) as the oxidizer which creates thrust. Unfortunately the thrust is very powerful, doesn’t last long.

However, at P.E.P.L. (Plasmadynamics & Electric Propulsion Laboratory), scientists have a solution. The X3 ion thruster is a type of electric propulsion design called a hall thruster, which has ten times the efficiency of a chemical rocket. To create thrust, an inert gas call xenon is used which has a huge amount of energy put into it. This creates a high temperature plasma, or charged particles of electrons and ions. This plasma is shot out at very high speeds by the hall thruster, creating thrust through electromagnetic fields. This thruster will be able to get an object moving at 500,000 mph, scientists predict. This propulsion system is not a thing just of the future.  Satellites above us are using this technology to stay in control. So, if humans want to get to Mars we need propulsion systems that last for longer, and the X3 just might be the engine for the job.

Luca Sella ‘24

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